Building Diverse, Equal and Inclusive Communities in Georgia’s Cities

Sara Baxter

Monday, December 6th, 2021

Through its nonprofit subsidiary, Georgia City Solutions, GMA is helping cities strengthen their communities by creating a place where everyone wants to live, play and work – and most importantly, feel like they belong.

When the city of Hogansville was having some issues they wanted to address in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion, they called Freddie Broome, Director of Equity and Inclusion for the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA). Broome traveled to Hogansville, a city of just over 3,000 residents in Troup County between Newnan and LaGrange, and offered two training sessions to help address the city’s concerns.

“He did a three-hour training for our managers, which covered organizational culture, diversity and inclusion and creating an awareness of diversity and inclusion issues,” says Rylee Govoreau, Hogansville’s Local Government Management Fellow. “Then he facilitated a community forum that evening that gave our citizens a safe space to talk about these important issues.”

Embracing inclusion, Celebrating Differences

This is what Broome does as part of the Georgia City Solutions (GCS) new equity and inclusion initiative, Embrace, which was created to help cities incorporate diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) into their workplace and their communities. To brand the Embrace program, GCS created a logo in the shape of the state of Georgia with an illustration inside of hands coming together. In the middle of those hands is a thumbprint.

“We came up with that name because we realized that if we really want to make our cities better, our communities better, our state better, it’s going to require everyone to come together,” explains Broome. “It’s time for us to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and celebrate those differences. To do that, we’re trying to go across the state and help plant that seed of understanding the value of differences and embracing equity and inclusion to bring changes to improve and strengthen our communities.”

In his role, Broome provides a vast toolbox of offerings to cities ranging from customized training sessions to workshops for all employees to consulting with city leaders. Whether a city is trying to start a DEI initiative, or is already on the path, he tailors his work to the needs of each city. His goal is to provide cities with the tools they need to be successful and supported in their mission.

Aside from Broome’s hands-on work with cities, GCS also offers training sessions, webinars, “courageous conversations” and other tools under the Embrace umbrella in an effort to equip cities with tools and resources, foster healthy lines of communication and implement suggestions from GMA’s Equity and Inclusion Commission.  Formed in 2020, the Equity and Inclusion Commission is made up of 26 municipal officers and is co-chaired by LaGrange Mayor and GMA President Jim Thornton and Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis.

“It’s Not about Race”

Though what he does in each city is different, there is a common thread: getting people to understand the differences in their communities and to value those differences.

“The first thing I talk about in the training is diversity,” Broome says. “I want to make sure that everyone understands that diversity means differences. Before you can create an environment where everyone has a feeling of belongingness, you have to value and appreciate each other’s differences by finding ways to respect each other, to understand each other and, most importantly, to accept each other.”

Broome says that one misperception a lot of people have is equating diversity with race.

“It’s not about race,” he says, noting that aside from race, diversity comes in many forms: gender, religion, sexual orientation and ethnicity. We try to get everyone to understand that diversity is about representation of all the different cultures and groups and creating a space where everyone feels included. Everyone has to feel like they belong. Otherwise diversity is not really where it should be.

That issue of inclusion came up in Hogansville training. “We discovered that we had a communication gap,” Govoreau says. “Many people didn’t know about meetings, activities and offerings in the city, so they didn’t feel included.”

Built into that sense of belonging is equity, which is ensuring that people have the same opportunity that everyone else has. It’s more than keeping it fair, but making it equal.

Broome gives this example: “Say GMA sent out t-shirts to everyone that works there. Everyone received a size medium green t-shirt. It’s fair because everyone got one, but it’s not equal because not everyone’s t-shirt will fit them. They don’t have an equal opportunity to wear the t-shirt. That’s where equity comes in – you need to create an environment where everyone can wear the shirt.”

Creating Cities for the Future

Broome, who joined GMA in 2020, says he’s pleased with how the Embrace program is progressing. Some cities already have DEI officers and/or an internal task force or an external committee in place. Aside from Hogansville, he’s worked with the cities of Brookhaven, Brunswick, Cartersville, Covington, Winder and many more.  

“The real benefit of these activities, besides the educational component, is bringing people together in a format where they feel comfortable enough to express their views,” says Hogansville Mayor Bill Stankiewicz. “We’ve started this work and there is more work to be done. It has to be intentional and continuous.”

Govoreau says that since Hogansville underwent the training, officials from other cities have called her to learn more as they start to realize DEI issues are important.

“The future of local government is changing,” says Govoreau, “and with the ‘grey tsunami,’ soon the workforce will be changing as well. We need to be thinking about ways we can work to improve both internally and externally. It’s really important that local governments embrace diversity, equity and inclusion. It’s shaping the future.”